- Alliance of 88 Duke University professors who publicly supported a local black stripper who had falsely accused three white student-athletes of rape
The “Group of 88” was an alliance of 88 Duke University professors who signed and published a full-page “listening statement” in the April 6, 2006 edition of the Duke Chronicle, the school’s independent daily newspaper. This statement indirectly condemned three white players on the Duke lacrosse team, whom a local black stripper had recently accused of rape and sodomy.
According to an ESPN story, the “listening statement” was initiated by African American Studies professor Wahneema Lubiano, who reportedly “felt her students’ frustration rising again, fueled by the feeling that in the wake of the scandal, no one was listening to them.” Added ESPN: “The head of her department had charged her with giving African-American students a voice. Theirs were the dozen quotes that appeared on the page she was getting ready to submit.”
The “listening statement” began with the following text:
“We are listening to our students. … Regardless of the results of the police investigation [into the alleged rape by the lacrosse players], what is apparent everyday now is the anger and fear of many students who know themselves to be objects of racism and sexism, who see illuminated in this moment’s extraordinary spotlight what they live with everyday. They know that it isn’t just Duke, it isn’t everybody, and it isn’t just individuals making this disaster. But it is a disaster nonetheless. These students are shouting and whispering about what happened to this young woman and to themselves.”
The “listening statement” also featured the following quotes attributed to black Duke students lamenting the allegedly rampant racism on their campus:
- “This is not a different experience for us here at Duke University. We go to class with racist classmates, we go to gym with people who are racists. … It’s part of the experience.”
- “If it turns out that these [white] students are guilty, I want them expelled. But their expulsion will only bring resolution to this case and not [to] the bigger problem. This is much bigger than them and throwing them out will not solve the problem. I want the administration to acknowledge what is going on and how bad it is.”
- “Being a big, black man, it’s hard to walk anywhere at night, and not have a campus police car slowly drive by me.”
- “I was talking to a white woman student who was asking me, ‘Why do people — and she meant black people — make race such a big issue?’ They [whites] don’t see race. They just don’t see it.”
- “[W]henever we [blacks] try to explain why we’re offended, it’s pushed back on us…. [T]he blame is always put on us.”
- “ … [N]o one is really talking about how to keep the young woman [the stripper] herself central to this conversation, how to keep her humanity before us … she doesn’t seem to be visible in this. Not for the university, not for us.”
- “I can’t help but think about the different attention given to what has happened from what it would have been if the guys had been not just black but participating in a different sport, like football, something that’s not so upscale.”
One of the more prominent members of the Group of 88 was Duke English professor Houston Baker, who condemned the “white male privilege” that had permitted the perpetrators of “this horrific, racist incident” to remain “safe under the cover of silent whiteness” while Duke administrators turned a “blind ey[e]” to the young men’s transgressions.
All told, 69 of the 88 signatories to the “listening statement” were tenured or tenure-track faculty. Of the remaining nineteen, seven were visitors; seven taught in the University Writing Program; and one each was a program registrar, graduate student, program administrator, clinical nurse, and “affiliate” to an unspecified Duke program. Of the 69 permanent faculty signatories, 58 described their research interests as related to race, class, and/or gender.
Over time it became evident that the plaintiff’s charges were entirely untrue, and in April 2007 — after the families of the Duke lacrosse players had spent millions of dollars in attorneys’ fees to defend their sons — all charges against the three defendants were dropped. The prosecutor, Durham District Attorney Michael Nifong, was disbarred for what a disciplinary committee described as “a clear case of intentional prosecutorial misconduct” that involved “dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation.” The committee said that Nifong had manipulated the investigation in order to boost his chances of being elected as Durham County district attorney.
Further Reading: “Duke Case: The Listening Statement” (11-10-2006); “Duke Lacrosse Players Arrested on Rape Charges” (NPR, 4-18-2006); “Months Later, Unanswered Questions Haunt Duke” (ESPN.com, 9-7-2006); “After Duke Prosecution Began to Collapse, Demonizing Continued” (NY Times, 4-15-2007); “Open Letter to Brodhead” (History News Network, 7-19-2006); “Charges Dropped in Duke Lacrosse Case” (ABC News, 4-11-2007); “Mike Nifong Disbarred Over Ethics Violations in Duke Lacrosse Case” (Fox News, 6-17-2007).